LOVELAND — Opening a new Veterans Affairs medical clinic on the same weekend the country remembers veterans who have died during military service was an emotional moment for former Army Staff Sgt. Tom Parker of Loveland.
Parker was part of the Honor Guard helping to open the new Northern Colorado Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic on Friday at 4575 Byrd Drive in Loveland, near Northern Colorado Regional Airport.
"With the cost of health care and veterans who have been through so much ... to have the new VA clinic situated between Fort Collins and Loveland is fantastic," Parker said. "The VA has come a long way in providing health care."
The 76,645-square-foot, $17 million clinic is expected to serve about 19,000 veterans from Larimer and Weld counties who oftentimes had to travel to Cheyenne, Wyoming, for health care before the clinic's completion.
The new facility is more than twice the size of the previous Fort Collins and Loveland clinics combined. It will offer primary care, mental health, radiology, dental, physical therapy, social work, laboratory, pharmacy, audiology, optometry and specialty services such as cardiopulmonary and podiatry as well as a new walk-in clinic.
"It will be a one-stop shop for veterans, and for the first time there will be a walk-in clinic similar to an urgent care," said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. "It's the kind of care veterans have earned and deserve."
While nearly 40,000 veterans live in the two counties — about 21,000 in Larimer County and 16,500 in Weld — the Northern Colorado VA sees about half of the eligible veterans, a Veterans Affairs representative told the Coloradoan last year. For a variety of reasons, the rest seek health care outside of the VA system.
In anticipation of the new clinic, the Cheyenne VA moved most of its Fort Collins primary care patients to its Loveland clinic, 5200 Hahns Peak Drive, last year. The Fort Collins office is expected to close permanently now that the new clinic is open, but the Hahns Peak location will remain open.
The clinic started seeing some patients in early May as it moved some services from Loveland and Fort Collins.
But much of the facility is still awaiting exam tables, furniture and equipment. "We should have everything by September," said Dr. William Holland, associate chief of staff and chief medical officer in Northern Colorado.
Friday's ceremony was also attended by Sunaina Kumar-Giebel, deputy network director of VA Integrated Service Network 19; medical director Paul Roberts; staff from the Cheyenne clinic; and developer Theo Bell, as well as about 200 veterans, families and local dignitaries.
The facility opened four months ahead of schedule and on budget even during COVID-19, said Roberts, who praised the development team for juggling a worldwide pandemic and new health center simultaneously.
You can't sit on the sidelines and wait for something to happen just because something else happened, he said.
Roberts thanked the veterans who "stayed strong with us" and thanked them for "not giving up on us. I sincerely hope when you come through the building that you think we did you proud, not because you deserve it but because you earned it," Roberts said.
The staff who work in the building will make it come alive, he said. "The veterans who come here for care will make it come alive."
Max deCamp, a Navy petty officer first class from 1960 to 1969 who served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, said the clinic would benefit all veterans who get their health care through the VA. "It's great to see it out here."
Bell, the developer, purchased the land for the facility from Windsor developer Martin Lind's Water Valley Companies and is leasing it to the VA.
“Anyone who knows our company understands where our heart is for veterans and servicemen and women," Lind said in a statement.
Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at email@example.com. Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: New VA clinic in Loveland opens to serve Larimer, Weld county veterans